Tuesday, November 16, 2010

The cost of war

Since 2001 the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan have cost us $1,100,000,000,000 -- that is 1 trillion plus 1 billion. Just imagine what we could have done with that money.

What is worse, we borrowed more than half of that sum. Sooner or later those loans need to be repaid and in the meantime we pay interest on them. This year we paid slightly more than $200 billion interest on our debt. According to some experts this interest payment is due to rise to $700 billion a year in a few years.

In the recent elections, concern about those huge debts had a good deal to do with the final outcome. Many people worry that our children and their children will have to pay much higher taxes to pay off the national debt.

These are serious worries. Unfortunately the cost of these wars is far greater. Abroad, America has acquired the reputation of a bully. We are seen as a country that will go to war just to get our way. Once we were seen as a country willing to fight for justice and freedom. We have lost that reputation in the Mideast wars

At home the trillion or more dollars we spent are the least important part of those costs.

Some experts say that 40% of the soldiers that survive the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan will suffer from anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress disorder, or traumatic brain injury. These are costs that cannot be repaid, that cannot be extinguished.

These problems create other ones. Between 12% and 50% of returning veterans are involved in domestic violence. 18 veterans commit suicide every day. Every day, 950 try to kill themselves but fail.

The pervasive depression and unhappiness among returning veterans directly affects their families -- their families of origin as well as the families they started themselves. It has a terrible effect on their children. Some experts believe that at least a third of the children in military families have psychosocial problems.

Add to that increase rates of child abuse or neglect by the parent left home alone when the other partner goes off to war. Not only are the returning veterans affected by depression and anxiety but the family they left behind often suffers the same emotions.

Some experts estimate that the immediate families of American soldiers comprise 20 million persons. They spent years fearing for the safety and the life of their loved soldiers. Then the veterans return depressed and in pain and unable to rebuild the family life they left behind.

Nor do these struggles end when those veterans and their families die. The children growing up with fathers or mothers suffering from depression, plagued by irrational rages, considering or trying to commit suicide, perhaps addicted to hard drugs or to alcohol, will carry traces of their childhood pains throughout their life. What is more they will pass a streak of sadness or anxiety on to their children.

Long after we have repaid our debts, Americans will still suffer from depression and anxiety. This pain first brought into those families from the battlefields in Afghanistan and Iraq will pass down in families for several generations to come.